A senior from Tufts University...

Katie Winter

What has your Jeopardy! experience been like so far?
This experience is just really overwhelming. Um, I'm a soon-to-be graduate of Tufts University, so it's a really fitting way to cap off my collegiate career.

What's the coolest thing about your university?
I'm actually a tour guide, and I work at the office of undergraduate admissions, so I spend all day long articulating all the things that make Tufts unique. But really, as cheesy as it sounds, I love the people that I've met there. I've met some of my best friends there, and, um, it's going to be sad walking away from that place after four years.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
So, I'm not entirely sure where I'll be professionally 10 years from now, but I do hope that I'll be as happy then as I am right now.

2008 College Championship quarterfinalist: $5,000.

22 and from Hershey, PA at the time of the College Championship.

Katie's First Blog Entry
Posted May 2, 2008

Hi! My name is Katie Winter and I'm a senior at Tufts double majoring in English and American Studies. I'm originally from Hershey, PA--site of the world's largest chocolate factory!

The day before I flew out to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to film "Jeopardy!", I turned in my Senior Honors Thesis. It's about the representation of the Japanese American internment experience in children's literature. I'll be defending my thesis less than a week after I compete, so it's been a hectic month!

At Tufts, I am active in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Currently, I work as a Senior Admissions Intern. I helped to recruit the incoming Class of 2012! I have been a tour guide since my freshman year, and I also write a blog for prospective students about undergraduate campus life.

I've interned at the Boston Children's Museum, studied abroad in Talloires, France, and served as an Executive Orientation Leader for freshmen. I used to write and perform in Major: Undecided, Tufts' only sketch comedy group, and I've also been involved in Concert Board, Surf Club, and community service outreach through the Leonard Carmichael Society.

For the past few years, I've told people that my goal was to make it to "College Jeopardy!" I was half-joking and half-serious. On a whim, I took the online contestant test in the fall of my junior year. I never heard back from the game show, so I figured that I had one final year to qualify as an undergraduate student. Last October, I took the online test for the second time. Right before winter break, I received notification that I had been selected for an in-person audition.

I auditioned at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York on a dreary afternoon in January. The night before my big day, my sister and I went to Mary's Fish Camp in the West Village for delicious lobster rolls and hot fudge sundaes. Lobster is my secret weapon: someone once told me that it takes a really long time for the protein to break down in your brain, so lobster enhances your academic performance. (Note: this may entirely be an old wives' tale. I never took Biology in college.) I felt confident about my audition; most importantly, I thought that my personality had come across to the contestant coordinators. In the cab ride after the audition, I called my parents and informed them that I thought I might make the Tournament. Still, I knew the odds were less than one percent.

I received "the call"that I had made "Jeopardy!"on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. I'm part Irish, so maybe that had something to do with my luck! When Contestant Executive Maggie Speak called me, it was 3 PM and I was in full-on slacker mode, lying on the sofa in my apartment, still wearing pajamas and watching a Lifetime Channel movie from 1993. It was hardly my most scholastic or sophisticated moment.

My cell phone started ringing from my bedroom. I seriously entertained the idea of not answering it. After all, it was Spring Break, and most of my friends were in far-flung tropical locales. Why would anyone be calling me? I peeled myself off the sofa and walked into the other room. Hmm. An unknown number from California. I figured that it was a wrong number, but I decided to answer it.

Now, if you've ever met her, then you know that Maggie talks at a rapid-fire rate. Initially, I misheard her and thought that she said that I hadn't made the cut for "College Jeopardy!" I assumed she was about to tell me that they wanted to relegate me to the regular adult "Jeopardy!" contestant pool.

"...So, can you do it?" Maggie asked. Suddenly, I realized that she was asking me to be in the College Tournament! She prattled off some logistics and important phone numbers, which I illegibly scrawled on a pink Post-It in my excitement. The entire conversation lasted less than four minutes. As soon as I finished my phone call, I speed-dialed my father's office.

I did not spend a lot of time preparing for the competition. As a college senior, time is a luxury of which I do not have enough! I had to finish writing my thesis and keep submitting job applications. Still, I DVR'ed "Jeopardy!" twice a day and practiced my buzzer timing with a ballpoint pen. Of course, I had to visit the Tufts bookstore and stock up on some new sweatshirts for my national TV debut!

Really, at the end of the day, the key to the game lies in operating the buzzer. I feel that "Jeopardy!" is a game of hand-eye coordination, strategy, and sheer luck. I discovered the J! Archive online and occasionally perused it. I also Google-mapped the city of Madison, WI to better acclimate myself to the surroundings. Finally, I researched the best steakhouses and State Street restaurants! Hopefully, I'll answer some questions correctly, make some money, and have a good time.

It's an honor to have been selected for "Jeopardy!" I am the first student from Tufts University that has ever been in the College Tournament, and I'm looking forward to representing the school that I love. I will graduate from Tufts a few days after the tournament airs. "College Jeopardy!"is a fitting way to cap off my collegiate experience.

And, if all else fails: at least I can say I met Alex Trebek.

- Read Katie's next entry on May 5th!


Posted May 5, 2008

When I arrived at the airport in Madison, I stepped off the plane and immediately espied a stack of Brett Favre t-shirts for sale. Clearly, I was in Wisconsin! My driver was a proud UW-Madison alum, and he entertained me with fun facts about the school. On the way to the hotel, I spotted the Jeopardy! Brain Bus in a parking lot.

I checked into the Doubletree, where the entire Jeopardy! staff was staying. The following morning, I went downstairs and met some of the other contestants for the first time. Over breakfast, we introduced ourselves and even discovered that we had some mutual friends! "Do you realize that one of us sitting here might wind up with $100,000?!" someone asked. I joked that the student who would eventually win the competition was probably still upstairs in his or her hotel room, furiously cramming flash cards.

Prior to meeting them, I wasn't really sure what to expect of my 14 competitors--whether they'd keep to themselves or be really intense and intimidating--but I found that they were all friendly and extroverted. We were all genuinely excited to have been selected for Jeopardy!, and we looked forward to the day's events. From the get-go, we bonded over our unique situation instead of looking upon one another as competition.

Soon, we boarded a shuttle and drove a block and a half to the Kohl Center. As we walked into the "green room" (a converted locker room where we would be sequestered for the majority of the weekend), we caught a glimpse of the stage and Jeopardy! screen. It was decorated with the colorful banners of our respective colleges.

We filled out some more tax forms and paperwork and sat in the makeup chairs. Eventually, we walked to the actual stage, and saw the massive 4,000 seat audience configuration. Onstage, reporters, stage managers, and crew members bustled about as cameras fluidly swooped through the air. It was a surreal experience: we simultaneously saw and heard Alex Trebek on the mounted television screens and on the actual stage.

After a few moments, he came over to introduce himself to us. In person, Alex Trebek behaves exactly as you might imagine him: he is articulate, witty, soft-spoken, and a consummate professional. Throughout the course of the weekend, he displayed his humorous side to the audience. To me, he came across as a normal person--that is, a normal person who just happens to be an American icon by virtue of his profession!

We spent a good deal of time filming promotional videos and interviews. I'd like to think that I came across as a regular person, but I fear that I was unbelievably cheesy in them! At one point, I posed for a photo with Alex. "Ahh, this is the Katie Winter of my discontent," he declared as he stood next to me. We filmed two promotional snippets for local stations.

At the rehearsal game, we spent time learning how to use the light pens to sign our names and write in Final Jeopardy! wagers and answers. At my audition back in January, I had practiced using the signaling buzzer. However, I still encountered difficulty with it. There's some estimated statistic along the lines that says 90% of the time, two out of the three contestants knows the correct answer to a given question. It's simply a matter of who manages to buzz in first. Thus, Jeopardy! really is a game of hand-eye coordination, strategy, and sheer luck. You might be the smartest person in the world, but you'll never master the game unless you have fast thumbs.

Mind you, I failed PeeWee tennis when I was four years old because my instructor determined that I had "no hand-eye coordination." So, it's a miracle that I was even to buzz in a fraction of the time! One of the most frustrating aspects of the game is when you know that you have the correct answer on the tip of your tongue and the person next to you hits the buzzer a nanosecond earlier. Simultaneously, you have to fret about the enhance lights on either side of the Jeopardy! screen, the 5 seconds you have to respond, and how you appear on camera. As you answer your question, you should already be figuring out what category and dollar amount to call next. Jeopardy! engages your brain and your body. It's actually pretty physically draining to play the game. It also goes by in a flash: you sort of black out after you play a round, and it takes you several hours to even recall the answers and categories.

However, I felt that my rehearsal went reasonably well, and I looked forward to the following day, when I would officially make my Jeopardy! debut.

- Katie plays her quarter-final game on May 8. Come back on May 9 to read her next blog entry!


Posted May 9, 2008

Due to the nature of the tournament and the four "wild card" spots, we were not allowed to see any of the games that preceded our own. Thus, we had to wait for hours on end in the windowless locker room until we were randomly called in groups of three to participate in the next game. I wound up playing the fourth game of the day, so I had to sit in the green room for hours on end. To ensure fairness, the contestant executives did not allow us to read, listen to iPods, take photos, or carry cell phones. Basically, the two things we could do were play card games or watch pre-approved films. The Jeopardy! writers had specifically chosen these movies because they did not contain any references to clues they had composed.

So, my fellow contestants and I watched "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby" and "About A Boy." Quite honestly, I was glad that I was not called to play in the first game; my nerves would've been too wracked. At the same time, we all grew a bit anxious and stir-crazy in the sequestered space. I drank copious amounts of caffeine to ensure that I wouldn't fall asleep at the podium, mid-game. After the first three games were filmed, we took a break and had the opportunity to practice using the buzzers one final time.

Then, they announced the lineup of the fourth game: Danny, Suchita, and myself. It was an ironic pairing, because Danny and Suchita were two of my favorite contestants! It felt a little strange to have to compete against two people whom I genuinely liked. We all wished each other the best of luck and Suchita even announced that she hoped we would all secure semi-finalist spots, by virtue of the wild card tactic.

Also, because I was playing in a game with Suchita, the UW-Madison student, the crowd went wild whenever she entered the venue or answered a question correctly. Maggie Speak, the Contestant Executive, warned me that I would have to pay particular attention during the game because my podium was situated closest to the roaring live audience.

Truly, the game is still a blur in my mind. It happened so quickly, and I just tried to enjoy every moment of it. I started out rough--in particular, I had difficulty getting a hang of the buzzer. During the first commercial break, Maggie Speak came over to me and gave me advice on how to buzz in more effectively. It was particularly frustrating, because I knew the answers to many of the questions. It's easy to be an "armchair player" and watch Jeopardy! in the comfort of your own home, shouting out answers at random. It is so much harder to actually stand under the bright studio lights and perform well. And that ridiculous category, "Fishin' Impossible?" Ha, I'm still bitter about it!

I know that I answered a slew of questions incorrectly, but I also managed to do moderately well. Going into Final Jeopardy, I was aiming for a wild card spot. I knew that I had to bet conservatively if I wanted a chance at the wild card (if I bet everything, then I would risk winding up with $0 and no shot of being a semi-finalist). Given the category, Famous Austrians, I thought that the question would be much less obvious than Mozart. So, I bet a moderate amount: $3000, a little less than half my total of $6800.

In the end, Danny won the game, and Suchita secured a spot as the second-highest wild card. The three of us hugged one another. Onstage, as the cameras rolled, Alex Trebek informed me that I was one spot away from the fourth wild card. Had I wound up with $1,301 more, I would have bested Vera's total. However, because I had no notion of the outcomes of the prior games, there was no way that I could have factored this into my final wager.

We all walked away from the stage and breathed a sigh of relief, elated that the anxiety of playing the game was over. Although I didn't qualify as a semi-finalist, I was happy with my performance. If I had to lose to anyone, I'd rather lose to people I like.

- Katie will have another blog entry on May 16. Be sure to read her parting thoughts!


Posted May 16, 2008

Due to my final score, I was the "alternate" for the following day in the advent that one of the nine semi-finalists was unable to play. I knew that it was highly unlikely that I would participate as an alternate, but I was happy that I got to spend more time in the green room with the nine semi-finalists. Also, I was able to rehearse onstage one final time and prove to myself that I could answer questions, buzz in correctly, and correctly answer a true Daily Double.

Really, you can't complain about appearing on national TV, being selected to participate in an elite tournament, and walking away with $5,000. I will have nothing but the fondest memories of my College Jeopardy! experience. From the hotel staff to the contestant executives to my fellow competitors, everyone was an absolute joy. When Joey won, we all gave him a standing ovation! I'm really happy that a genuinely nice and sincere individual won the tournament.

Finally, on Saturday night, the majority of us went out as a group and celebrated the end of the long weekend. Since returning to our respective colleges, we've tried to correspond with one another and stay in touch. College Jeopardy! was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm so honored to have been a part of it and to have shared it with 14 new friends.

Katie appeared in the following archived game:
#5459, aired 2008-05-08 Danny Devries vs. Suchita Shah vs. Katie Winter 2008 College Championship quarterfinal game 4. From the Kohl Center...

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